Not even bullying can take the shine off happiness at school

7th March 2008 at 00:00
... and British pupils believe it is very important to do well in class

Prepare to be confused. British pupils appear to be among the happiest at school in western Europe, despite complaining of suffering the worst bullying.

More than 40 per cent of 13- to 16-year-olds said they were "happy" when asked how they felt most of the time at school, with just two per cent saying they were unhappy.

Only Spain's schools did better, with nearly 50 per cent saying they were happy. Those in Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany lagged behind.

The British Council study, based on surveys of 3,500 children in nine countries, contrasts with a Unicef report last year, which suggested British children had the worst levels of wellbeing in Europe.

Children in England and Scotland were also the most likely to believe it was very important for their futures to be successful at school.

Sue Palmer, an education consultant and author of the book Detoxing Childhood: What Parents Need to Know to Raise Happy, Successful Children, said children could be interpreting "happy" differently.

"We would hope that children are reasonably happy in their lives, but happiness shouldn't be our focus," she said. "What we really want is children who have emotional resilience, who can bounce back, and get the most out of life.

Perhaps predictably, the most chilled out nation was the Netherlands, where half of pupils said they felt "relaxed" at school. This compared to just 13 per cent in the UK.

The survey also revealed that nearly half of British school children thought bullying was a problem in their schools, higher than all other countries. Language spoken, physical differences and clothing were singled out as big reasons for children making fun of each other. Only one in 10 said they had been bullied in the last three months.

The report comes after a study by Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh of 1,993 pupils at secondary schools in the north of England, which found that 75 per cent had played a part in bullying.

Oli Watts, founder of the Pupil Line anti-bullying website, said British pupils' belief that bullying was a problem was probably down to the national awareness drive in schools. He said: "I've visited schools in Poland, Hungary and Macedonia and talked to pupils about bullying, and many of the students didn't even know what I was on about. Reporting in the UK is much higher, and it's great that children are aware of how they should be treated. But sometimes pupils can not always differentiate between teasing and really malicious, sustained bullying."

Pupils from the schools involved in the British Council study have presented a Schools White Paper to the EU Commission in Brussels, suggesting ways to tackle bullying. They include recognising more religious holidays on the school calendar and more time to discuss different cultures and backgrounds in lessons.

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